Friday, November 20, 2009


My friend and colleague, J. Mark Davidson, Pastor of The Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC offers these important thoughts on the video, I AM ISRAEL, which was removed from the website of The Israel/Palestinian Mission Network which is closely affiliated with The Presbyterian Church (USA):

I looked at the video yesterday, and it stayed with me all day, and I thought about my reactions to it, and about what to say about it to you. Then this morning, I read that it had been taken down off the IP Mission Network webpage.

Basically, I think it is best that it was removed. Here's my thing:

a) it wasn't "anti-semitic," because anti-semitism, at least the way it functions in the public mind, is hatred of Jews because of their Jewishness; this is reprehensible and we should always repudiate it and renounce the anti-semitism in Church history, etc. But this video was not hatred of Jews because of their Jewishness, it was rage against Israel because of 60 years of oppression and dispossession;

b) I noticed that the question of whether the video should be kept on the site or removed tended to get played out on the plane of Israeli-Palestinian power politics: AIPAC and its allies might have been behind the accusation that it was anit-semitic, therefore we should stand against AIPAC's tactics and kept it posted on the site, etc. We have to find a way to get past this rut-worn polarization; it only feeds the conflict, and distracts thought and energy from the central issues;

c) everything said in the video about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is accurate; the case for keeping the video up on the site is to get the word out about the Palestinian rage and frustration about Israel's oppression; the Palestinian viewpoint is a narrative and a perspective largely shielded from the American public;

d) my problem, though, with the video was that although the words were accurate, they weren't "true." Truth is something larger and deeper than facts. Laying out all these Israeli atrocities and violations of international law under the banner of the Israeli flag and a dark sound track and the words, "I AM ISRAEL" engages in what I call "enemy-speak". It can only invite defensive and self-justifying rhetoric from "the other side" and we end up keeping the conflict well-fed, we strengthen the well-worn conflict grooves in the brain;

e) one could as easily have done a video "I AM PALESTINE" and pictured the Palestinian flag and a dark sound track and 6 minutes of shrieking Israeli mothers mourning, like Rachel, their lost children, and said that Palestinians were bloodthirsty terrorists who brainwash their young and turn them into suicide bombers and send them onto crowded buses to kill Israeli seminarians and schoolchildren. And we would be outraged on behalf of the Palestinians, because that does not tell the whole truth about who the Palestinians are;

f) if we are going to post an "I AM ISRAEL" video that is not filled with "enemy-speak", wouldn't it have the face of Jeff Halper, ICAHD founder and my candidate for a modern Isaiah in our midst, or historian-in-exile Elan Pappe who wrote courageously about Israel's campaign of "ethnic cleansing", or for that matter, the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic or Israeli poets or Rabbis for Human Rights, etc. In the same way, we would insist that an "I AM PALESTINE" video should show the face of Naim Ateek or Jonathan Kuttab or Hannah Nashrawi, or gifted Palestinian pianists and poets and painters, and their centuries-long connection to the olive trees, and so forth.

g) there will be no true, just, and lasting peace in this deeply troubled land until everyone refrains from "enemy-speak", yes, speak truth to power, yes, challenge our own government to pressure Israel to end the occupation, return the dispossessed land, tear down the wall, etc., but not, in the process and in the name of so much suffering, dishonor that suffering by engaging in half-truths and distortions that undermine the Golden Rule and in the end break the commandment not to bear false witness.

So, I think we have to get beyond the video sound-bite, feel-good, enemy-speak, lash-out "journalism"; it cannot sow the seeds of peace which are built on the foundation of truth, justice, and love.

+ See my previous "Supporting the Palestinians" posts:
Go to #1
Go to #2
Go to #3
Go to #4

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